Friday, July 24, 2009

The Cradle is soothing syrup for City Slickers

On winter weekends, us city types don’t want to get out of bed too early to take long drives. That’s why The Cradle, a 3000 hectare World Heritage Site is an ideal weekend jaunt for jaded city slickers. It’s a short distance (no more than an hour’s drive) from both Jozi and Tswane, and there’s more than enough in The Cradle to soothe you back to normal.

If you do find yourself early on a Saturday in The Cradle, on Kromdraai Road, weaving through the misty countryside, you’ll be in the company of ribbons of cyclists – the Cyclelab riders - who move in almost endless echelons into the heart of The Cradle and out again from the Montecasino area. So if you want to find the area without looking on a map, follow the riders from about 6am onwards. Hot air balloons also drift slowly through the mists over this ancient countryside.

The Cradle gets its name for the fossils that have been discovered in this area. The fossils are older than ordinary human fossils; they belong to creatures known as hominids that came before humans and are much older, millions of year’s older. They made this area their home for a long time. Maropeng is a centre set up to educate people specifically about these ‘Cradle of Humankind’ fossils, and can be found on the lower end of The Cradle, along the N14. Maropeng means “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana. Our ancestors are said to have lived in this area for more than 3-million years.

It is virtually in the heart of this area that you’ll find the world famous Sterkfontein Caves, the site of some of the greatest discoveries in the fossil record, and new discoveries are uncovered each day.

But if you only want to dedicate half of an afternoon to soothing your senses, you don’t have to visit Maropeng or the caves when you visit The Cradle. There’s The Cradle restaurant, which is about twenty minutes from Montecasino off the Kromdraai Road. It has beautiful sweeping views from deck featuring tasteful décor. It’s a great place to have a drink with the elegant quiet of nature as a backdrop.

A few kilometers further down the road are a number of other wide-open space farm style restaurants – such as Teak – which cater to families and has delightful playgrounds and petting zoos for children. Going even further into The Cradle, along Kromdraai Road, you’ll cross a stream and a traffic circle where early bird cyclists turn and double back. Here you’ll see lions sunning themselves right beside an electrified fence (the enclosure is quite small). When we went we saw a pair getting it on while another female lying close to the fence, looked on. Within a few minutes a number of vehicles had stopped to gawk at the spectacle. Around the corner a troop of monkeys forage in the road and between the reeds.

The Cradle is the perfect place for a quick back-to-nature experience. Drive slowly and take it all in. And stop at some point along the road to get a closer look at ostriches or the aloes, or just to wonder what our forebears were doing here before there was a Jozi.

DIRECTIONS: Use these co-ordinates for your GPS: 25 degrees, 55 minutes S; 27 degrees, 50 minutes E.
The Cradle is off the N14 before the Krugersdorp turnoff. Alternatively, driving on the R512 towards Lanseria airport, take the Kromdraai Road turnoff and follow the signs.

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